I know the thing that brings us all together is our love for the Cleveland Indians.
But at the core of that common bond is the sport the Cleveland Indians play: Baseball. Boy, do I love baseball in general. I'm the guy that watches those televised spring training games on ESPN in mid-March. I'm the guy that reads every inch of the preseason previews put out by ESPN Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News.
In-addition to, I'm a fantasy junkie, so I buy Rotoworld's digital guide, which not only helps my fantasy teams, it feeds the hunger for more baseball information. I've fallen in love with the daily 12-link round-up posted by The Big League Stew over at Yahoo! Sports. Last year I put in the RSS feeds for a local newspaper and the coverage they provide on their baseball team into my Google reader.
As much as I love the Cleveland Indians, I just love the sport of baseball in general. In past years I'd take on the task of previewing every single team and making a big production out of it. I've brightened up over the years because that effort involved much labor.
I still have that itch to talk about other teams. So here is my compromise. Considering you want your Indians fix and I want to get my other team fix, I've put together a mini-AL Central spring preview and offseason review, Indians excluded.
Chicago White Sox
Last Year: Finished Second
Doctor's Note: SP Jake Peavy
Meet the Grady Sizemore of the Chicago White Sox. Like Sizemore, there are questions surrounding when Jake Peavy will be ready and if he'll be there Opening Day. Peavy pitched in 17 games last year, missing the entire second half after he suffered a detached lat muscle in his right shoulder. Mark Buerhle will always be the White Sox guy on opening day, but it will be interesting to see if we get a Peavy/Sizemore matchup opening weekend.
Signing to Like: 1B/OF Adam Dunn (4 Years, $56M)
I usually don't like signings that spend a whole lot of money, but this was the most talented player the White Sox signed and by today's standards, the price tag doesn't seem all that cumbersome given that it's a four year deal. Dunn gives this lineup a stabilizer and someone to protect Paul Konerko and Alex Rios.
Signing to Shake: RP Jesse Crain (3 Years, $13M) and Will Ohman (2 Years, $4M)
The White Sox spent $17 million on both Jesse Crain and Will Ohman. I would have rather paid the following guy so I knew I had someone capable of closing. Plus giving middle relievers like Crain $4 million per year is not bright. Aaron Fultz!
Biggest Loss: RP J.J. Putz
They let their closer Bobby Jenks go as well, but I think the loss of J.J. Putz will prove to be more damaging. They have to like the young kid, Chris Sale, and the torque he brings, but Putz is a veteran. Can Matt Thornton close? Will Matt Thornton close? The White Sox should have considered bringing back someone who's done it before.
Won't Be Missed: OF Manny Ramirez
Out of all their losses, I think the mid-season acquisition of Manny Ramirez is the loss they'll be able to live without. They essentially replaced him with Adam Dunn, who is in the prime of his career. Not that Manny provided much anyway.
Breakout Year: 2B Gordon Beckham
Beckham put together a horrid first few months in 2010. He had just two more home runs through June and was hitting .216 at the All Star break. Then something clicked, and in the second half he hit .310 with a .380 on-base percentage. Beckham is still young and he's poised to use that second half momentum for a breakout season.
Down Turn: 1B Paul Konerko
This isn't an indictment on Paul Konerko, more so it's a reality check. Konerko is 35 and he had one of his best offensive seasons ever. There is little chance he repeats that effort, but while he'll probably regress in performance, he'll still be one of the major contributors.
Other Signings/Additions: Paul Konerko, 3 Years, $37.5M; A.J. Pierzynski, 2 Years, $8M; Lastings Milledge, Minor League
Other Losses: Freddy Garcia, Bobby Jenks, J.J. Putz, Mark Kotsay, Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones
Position Battle: Third Base
The White Sox are set in a lot of areas, but the one position they have some uncertainty at is third base. Wow, that sounds familiar. The White Sox though pretty much look like they're going to settle with young third baseman Brent Morel. Mark Teahen has been the guy in the past but it looks like they're ready to make him more of a utility player and hand the job over to someone who could be their future. Don't forget good friend Omar Vizquel is back with Chicago and at one point was a regular starter at third in 2010. You just never know with that old guy.
Last Year: Finished Third
Doctor's Note: 2B Carlos Guillen
Pull up a game log from Carlos Guillen and expect to see multiple "Did not play" strings throughout the season. Guillen missed most of May, most of August and all of September and now he is yet again going to have to get moved to a new position. The Tigers are always trying to put him somewhere to reduce the wear and tear on his body but that just never works out.
Signing to Like: SP Brad Penny (2 Years, $3M)
I like signing Brad Penny to a small salaried deal. Yeah, he might get hurt like he did with St. Louis last season, but for a team like Detroit who's made worse money commitments; Penny is more of a lower-risk to take on.
Signing to Shake: SS Jhonny Peralta (2 Years, $11.25M)
You could have signed him for five bags of peanuts and a milkshake and this would still not have been bright. Milkshakes are not to be wasted. What makes this more painfully comical is the fact they signed him to reprise his role of shortstop. I wonder if Jhonny ever made any errors against Detroit, perhaps they never saw him?
Biggest Loss: OF Johnny Damon
They didn't lose much, so that makes this a difficult pick, but Damon did provide some good offense. The price tag certainly won't be missed (neither will the fact the Rays got him for a cheaper price) but they've replaced him with a much better designated hitter.
Won't Be Missed: C Gerald Laird
Martinez's addition also makes the loss of Gerald Laird not such a big deal. Youngster Alex Avila came on strong and he'll pair an on-again, off-again tandem with Martinez that makes Laird, who is now a backup in St. Louis, not needed.
Breakout Year: SP Rick Porcello
Sometimes the whole idea of a sophomore slump is an excuse or just a way for someone to give a reason as to why initial success won't be repeated. What it really comes down to is how the "sophomore" makes adjustments. The league adjusted to Rick Porcello and he struggled for the first few months. Procello turned it around in the second half, not quite to the level he was as a rookie, but expect adjustments to be made and Porcello to take a leap.
Down Turn: SS Jhonny Peralta
This isn't pick on Jhonny Peralta time, but, yes it is. The honeymoon is over Detroit, get ready to get the full .226 average in April Jhonny Peralta. It's a wild ride!
Other Signings/Additions: Joaquin Benoit, 3 Years, $16.5M; Victor Martinez, 4 Years, $50M; Magglio Ordonez, 1 Year, $10M
Other Losses: Armando Galarraga (Traded), Johnny Damon, Gerald Laird, Jeremy Bonderman
Position Battle: Left Field
The Tigers have a few battles on their hands if Carlos Guillen isn't healthy enough to play second base from the beginning (a new position + injury = same old Carlos Guillen). The battle for playing time in left field should be an interesting one though as rookie sensation Brennan Boesch takes on Ryan Raburn. Boesch knocked in 67 runs last year and was a scorching .342 hitter before the break. But as good as he was pre-All Star he was just as bad post-All Star. Where Boesch left off, Raburn picked up and he knocked in 62 runs last year. Raburn is the front runner while Boesch may be ticketed for regular time in Toledo.
Kansas City Royals
Last Year: Finished Fifth (Tied with Cleveland, Moral Victory!)
Doctor's Note: 2B Chris Getz
Last season wasn't exactly the introduction to Kansas City Getz was looking for. After coming over from division rival Chicago, Getz suffered through an injury early in the year after a rough start. When all was said and done, Getz finished the year with just 72 starts and the capper came in September when he suffered a concussion that ended his season. Getz is ready to go though and the favorite to be starting second baseman.
Signing to Like: SP Jeff Francis (1 Year, $2M)
After trading your best starter, losing another to retirement and a third to a Japanese team, you'd be hard pressed to find a better gamble to take then on Jeff Francis. For $2 million this is a safe bet for a team with no options in the rotation.
Signing to Shake: N/A
The Royals didn't make a signing that could be considered a disaster. If they had invested more money or time into Jeff Francoeur, that could be considered a bad move but they were smart enough to not be stupid.
Biggest Loss: SP Zack Greinke
What...did you think I was going to say Yuniesky Betancourt?
Won't Be Missed: SS Yuniesky Betancourt
What...did you think I was going to say Zack Greinke?
Breakout Year: OF Alex Gordon
I'll use the term "breakout" very loosely on this one. Look, Gordon is a former highly thought of prospect at third base turned converted outfielder. He's put together two subpar years before two years of injuries and demotions (he's been around that long?). Maybe just maybe things will finally pan out for the guy. I have not statistical proof or reasonable logic on this one, just a hunch.
Down Turn: 1B Kila Ka'aihue
I wouldn't go as far as to call Kila Ka'aihue the next Andy Marte, but if the warning signs with Marte were any indication, the Royals may have a similar player in Ka'aihue. The young slugger can get long with his swing and sure he mashed minor league pitching, but he has yet to really do it at the major league level in limited action. Call me a skeptic, but that's what I am in regards to Ka'aihue. I also hate typing his name.
Other Signings/Additions: Melky Cabrera, 1 Year, $1.25M; Bruce Chen, 1 Year, $2M; Jeff Francoeur, 2 Years, $2.5M; Pedro Feliz, Minor League Deal; Alcides Escobar, Trade; Vin Mazzaro, Trade
Other Losses: Zack Greinke (Traded), Gil Meche (Retired), Brian Bannister, David DeJesus (Traded), Yuniesky Betancourt (Traded)
Position Battle: Center Field
The Royals have a few new incoming faces competing to patrol the center of Kauffman Stadium. Melky Cabrera is the leading candidate as he comes over from Atlanta, the place he struggled in his only year. He'll have to put off one of the acquisitions in the Zack Greinke deal, Lorenzo Cain. Indians fans might remember both Cain and shortstop Alcides Esocbar from the CC Sabathia discussions. Cain is sort of like the guy the Indians got, Michael Brantley, in that his game is based off speed and sporting a high on-base percentage. Even if Cain doesn't win the job, it may not be long before he assumes the role.
Last Year: Finished First
Doctor's Note: 1B Justin Morneau
In 2010 Justin Morneau had one of those concussions that just seem to never clear up. Concussions like that can give you doubts about your future; just see Aaron Hill in Toronto a few years ago. Morneau is back in action, but still not fully cleared to be ready for Opening Day. The Twins have their fingers crossed the other head of their bi-MVP monster is ready to go.
Signing to Like: DH Jim Thome (1 Year, $3M)
How can you not like re-signing Jim Thome? A team like Minnesota can afford luxuries like Thome, who may not play as a regular designated hitter, but when he does, he certainly mashes. And if Morneau isn't ready or they have some other sort of injury, Jason Kubel moves into the field full-time and Thome can fill in at DH.
The Twins made one addition and re-signed Carl Pavano. Some may combat the idea of giving Carl Pavano $8 million per year but Pavano has been solid the past two seasons and worth a short-term investment.
Biggest Loss: RP Matt Guerrier
The Twins let go a lot of relief pitchers, two of which they had acquired at the previous two trade deadlines. Matt Capps will be back to support returning closer Joe Nathan and while letting Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch go may have been necessary, I wonder if letting Matt Guerrier walk is a blow to their depth. Guerrier was Mr. Reliable for the Twins and now they have to hope Jose Mijares takes to the setup role and Pat Neshek can make a full comeback. For what it's worth, Guerrier did get one of those contracts I chastised the White Sox for giving out, so in that regard, the Twins were smart. Guerrier's presence will be missed though.
Won't Be Missed: N/A
The Twins lost a good number of people, including four relief pitchers. I would have, especially with Joe Nathan coming off Tommy John Surgery, at least brought back one of those relievers. It will remain to be seen if Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy's losses are critical depending on how the middle infield works out, but Hardy may not be all that missed based the time he missed in 2010.
Breakout Year: CF Denard Span
I have been touting the Denard Span horn for quite some time now. Last year he didn't have the year I was expecting him to have and I think the Twins expected better as well. Span is the leadoff guy and while he got on base and played good defense, he can do better. His on-base percentage and average took a dip when we expected it to trend up so maybe this is the year Span puts it all together and makes himself MLB-wide relevant.
Down Turn: 3B Danny Valencia
Call it the rookie adjustment or whatever you want, Danny Valencia will have to go through the wake-up call. This is one of those sophomore excuses I was talking about. He played in 85 games last year and was big in the Twins making the playoffs. But now the job is his full time and everyone knows what he brings to the table. I wouldn't expect to be disappointed, but Valencia will have to adjust.
Other Signings/Additions: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 3 Years, $9M; Carl Pavano, 2 Years, $16.5M
Other Losses: Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy (Traded), Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Brain Fuentes
Position Battle: Second Base/Shortstop
This is sort of a Jason Donald/Jayson Nix pre-Orlando Cabrera signing situation brewing in the infield. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishikoa (I'd just call him Yoshi) and Alexi Casilla will likely both start, but where is another question. One will be the second baseman and the other will start at short. If you want more of a pressing battle, there seems to be some contention for the back end of the rotation between the likes of Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Brian Duensing. That is as long as everyone else stays healthy and is ready to go for the start of the season.
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